This Veteran-Run Nonprofit Delivers Quality Care Packages Troops Really Want

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Chelsea Mandello and her staff know what it takes to get needed items to people doing dangerous work. She runs Troopster, a one-stop shop that sends care packages to deployed troops.

But now they are raising money to pack essential item kits for health-care workers and first responders who are facing the threat from COVID-19 in their everyday work.

While the whole world knows by now what kind of items health-care workers need most, it's not so easy for American troops in war zones. That's where Troopster comes in. It was founded by Mandello, then a U.S. Navy sailor, who knew exactly what she and her fellow service members needed in care packages -- and what happened if they didn't get those packages.

"It was 2013, we were facing budget cuts and sequestration. … Deployments were severely extended," she recalled. "We went from six months to 12 months and were expected to do the same job with less resources."

The same went for the mail carriers. By the time Mandello and other sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge received their care packages, they had gone bad.

Morale plummeted, of course. When Mandello went back to shore duty, she decided she would do something about it. That's how Troopster was born.

While still a sailor, she founded the company to send customized care packages to troops deployed all around the world. With Troopster, she wanted to build a stable bridge to connect troops and their families.

Chelsea Mandello, former Navy sailor and founder of Troopster. (Courtesy of Chelsea Mandello)

She split her days doing her duties as a U.S. Navy photojournalist and conducting the business of growing a nonprofit meant to serve her fellow troops. She often woke at 3 a.m. to pack packages, changed out of her uniform during lunch to hold meetings and then went home to pack more packages after a 48-hour watch.

So when she left the Navy in 2018, it was quite a relief -- but her work was just beginning. With the help of business and technology accelerator programs, she doubled her efforts to build the company.

Today, on top of personalizing a care package for a deployed loved one, you can adopt a service member or a unit to send them all care packages. Civilians can send what their loved ones need without the guesswork of putting together their own package.

There are special packages for the junk-food lover and the fitness nut alike, for vegan and carnivore, Air Force or Army. You can even build your own box with products guaranteed to be needed by someone, items your troop can either use or trade -- often cheaper than you could find in stores and at a discounted shipping rate.

Since 2015, Troopster has sent more than 12,000 care packages to deployed troops all over the world.

"We've had great feedback from our customer surveys about our products," Mandello said. "And I know that's what anyone would say, but I ask people to be brutally honest when giving feedback because we can't improve if we don't know there's a problem."

Vegan, gluten free, caffeine free, diet -- there's something for even the pickiest of snackers. Troopster uses veteran-made products wherever possible, including One Nation Coffee, The General's Hot Sauce and Kickass Jerky. Colorado-based Four Points Energy Bars created a whey protein bar just to support Troopster.

"I can't tell you truly how much this work impacts me," Mandello said. "It's so weird, but every package we send, every letter that we get back ... I'm always remembering what it's like, and it makes me want to keep helping."

So Mandello and Troopster taking the time to raise money and create care packages with essential equipment for those fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic makes sense. The company is working to raise $1.1 million to pack 50,000 care packages for health-care workers as soon as possible.

"Our frontline heroes within the United States right now are doctors, corpsmen, nurses, volunteers, EMTs, police officers and firefighters who are in need of gloves, masks and other items to keep them safe during this crisis," Mandello said in a statement.

Visit Troopster to learn more about sending a custom care package or help raise money to get personal protective equipment in the hands of health-care workers.

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